Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #33 – Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”

August 27, 2014


In the case of this book, I put the cart before the horse. Connie and I were invited to see an exclusive advanced screening of the upcoming movie, The Giver at the Carefree Cinema in Colorado Springs on the evening of July 31, 2014.

Neither of us had read the book. All we knew was that the book was first published in 1993, and became a Newberry Award winner in 1994. The book has been required reading in a host of schools–especially middle schools–across the country for many years now. Colleges too.

We went into the movie blind since it had not yet been released; not even movie reviews were available yet. We did know, however, that the movie had a stellar cast, including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Alexander Skarsgard.

We did know it would be a futuristic movie.

Our hostess was the genial Jane Terry, who explained why each of us had been forbidden to bring any recording devices into the theater. Nor were we to divulge the contents of the film to anyone prior to the movie’s release, or review it before the release date.

Then, the movie rolled. In somber black and white. It took us some time to understand just what it was that we were watching. And what might be significant about the upcoming twelfth birthdays of a group of good friends. At which time, each would be assigned a life profession, hopefully compatible with each individual’s primary interests.

The first jar had to do with the age: they most certainly didn’t look like twelve-year-olds, but rather eighteen-year-old high school graduates! What gives here? But the story-line was so mesmerizing that most of us did willing-suspension-of-disbelief and watched the story-line unroll.

It didn’t take me long to discover we were watching a dystopia, a subject area I was already very familiar with, having written my masters in English thesis at Sacramento State University on utopian and dystopian books. My wife, not having been herself immersed in the genre earlier on, was forced to fly blind into the movie.

Nor did it take me long to realize how eerily prophetic the story line was: too much appeared to either be already reality in contemporary society or be approaching it. Then the story grew darker. But it was still a long time before either the young protagonists or the audience were aware that something awful was happening.

In the movie discussion afterwards, it was noted that the author, back in 1993, had predicted it might become reality in fifty years from then. I declared that it might very well become reality in twenty from now.

But later, I purchased a copy of the book and read it through. I was fascinated. When the movie was released I eagerly read the reviews to see what their take on the movie might be.


Raymond Flynn (August 15 Wall Street Journal) titled his review “‘The Giver’ and the ‘Totalitarian Instinct.’” Included in his insightful commentary are passages such as this: “As the lights came up after the screening…, my thoughts were on Poland and communism, but soon turned to the broader subject of totalitarian regimes robbing individuals of their God-given rights. So often, one of the first jobs of the totalitarian is to declare that God is dead and that government is the final authority on truth and justice–we see it now in North Korea…. In the movie, we are in a world where all human misery has been eliminated. There is no rage, no war, no wealth and no poverty. But at a cost. There is also no music, no art, no literature, no beauty. And no memory. Just to be safe, all memories are the possession of a lone individual.”

In the August 16-17 Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Wolfe’s review of Jeff Bridges’ role quotes Bridges as saying, “I think it’s an impulse for human beings to want to suffer less, and we’re kind of addicted to comfort at all costs–at least I am. And of course comfort has a price. So the film is asking…what’s the true cost of our comfort, and what are we willing to pay?”

Lisa Kennedy, in the August 15 Denver Post labels the film “a gentle, chilling dystopian primer,” and notes that both recent films Divergent and The Hunger Games owe much to Lois Lowry’s earlier book. The movie “is a class act, the kind of respectable rendering of a literary source we’ve come to expect from Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, the indie force behind ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ ‘Holes,’ and other engaging family fare.”


My mind is still at sea with Lois Lowry’s unique approach to the utopian and dystopian genres. George Orwell paints his Stalinist world in bleak gray. Both Freedom and Family are dirty words. Love is an obscenity. Aldous Huxley’s world is closer to ours: Give the world all the sex, sensations, and pleasure it wants–and few will even care that World Controllers make all the really significant decisions, what’s left is meaningless, which is whatever sensation, pleasure, high, or pill one wishes to turn to. Free sex is so ubiquitous it no longer has any meaning, nor do any of the standard building blocks to a great society: God, Love, Marriage, Fidelity, Commitment, Honor, Patriotism, Empathy, Faith, Integrity, Courage, Dependability, Longing, etc.

Lowry’s world is also gray, and is just as totalitarian as Orwell’s and Huxley’s, even though it appears to be benign. All the highs and lows of life have been eliminated. Sex does not even exist, no small thanks to injections and pills. The power of making individual choices is not even an option, not even in careers. Marriage is a travesty, as is “family,” but is instead a mockery of the real thing: catbird egg children (not your own), and celibate “parents” who are not permitted to really love anyone. Puberty is not even permitted to happen. Children happen somewhere off-stage via women who somehow churn out babies from no one is permitted to know where or how. The only learning is standardized meaningless pap. Big Brother–or in Meryl Streep’s case, Big Sister, is omnipresent. Even thought-crime is punishable by death. Unwanted babies disappear. Same with unwanted retirees. All is placid–yet terrifying. All human knowledge is housed in one room, guarded by one person only. No one else must have any access to it–ever.

Nevertheless, I personally predict that society is drifting into Lowry’s orbit: In America, spiritual faith–unless it is of the East or mystical–is routinely ridiculed and disparaged. Marriage (commitment for life) is being reduced to live-in relationships, one-night stands, and meaningless “hook-ups.” Children all too often are merely frisbees tossed between one household to another, with no real home to call their own. Porn of all kind (a la Huxley) is so addictive that real marital commitment cannot even compete. Virtual reality is replacing real reality. The very concept of faithfulness is mocked. The gay lifestyle is all too often replacing the heterosexual; result: androgynous individuals without clearly defined sexual differences. Why spend years studying and learning when you can escape into substance abuse and virtual reality? Boys especially, lacking traditional fatherhood role-models, are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age. College and university degrees are becoming worthless: substituting amorphous masses of meaningless observations for the traditional building blocks of western culture: history, biography, geography; great art, great music, great literature. More and more, one can earn doctorates in areas such as history without taking any history classes. Patriotism is continually ridiculed and downgraded, and is no longer taught in most of our schools. Our democratic way of life is being rapidly subverted by corporations and big money determining election results rather than people-driven elections. Since people are discouraged from reading, elections are now being decided by vicious below-the-belt attack ads that result in more and more cynicism, most terrifying–even in children and teenagers. Big Government is taking over more and more of the decisions parents used to make. Big Governments the world over are discouraging all rural life in favor of megacities that can be more easily manipulated and coerced.

When you add all this up, who is to stop totalitarian systems such as Lowry’s from obliterating what is left of freedom in our world?

That is why everyone–young or old–ought to read Lowry’s book and see the movie…so that course-corrections can be implemented before it is too late. Especially should tweens and teens read the book and see the movie.

The book can be found everywhere. The movie version was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014; the original (1993) was published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Find a copy and read it.

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club – “BRAVE NEW WORLD” and “BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED”

May 8, 2013




The Book of the Month that follows the tripartite “Paralysis of the American Mind” series had to be a heavyweight, preferably a book that would build on the three previous blogs. For this, I reach back to two books featured in my 1968 thesis for my masters in English degree from Sacramento State University: Plato to Orwell, a Study of Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Utopias in literature depict idealized happily-ever-after societies, each written during time-periods in history where such societies appeared possible in real life societies. Dystopias, on the other hand, depict anti-utopias (unhappily-ever-after societies). I chose five: Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes, Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, and Orwell’s 1984.

Of these, Huxley’s fictional world mirrors most accurately the world we see in our everyday news. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), novelist, short-story writer, essayist, poet, critic, and dramatist, was born into one of England’s most illustrious literary and scientific families. Brave New World was first published in 1932 and Brave New World Revisited in 1959. Unlike George Orwell who predicted in 1984 that the future would be modeled after dictators such as Stalin, Huxley felt a world characterized by hedonism and pleasure would endure a lot longer.

Easily one of the most significant 25 books of the last century, these two books should be on the Bucket List of every thoughtful reader. The first is fiction, the second is a chilling essay. In Brave New World, as you read from page to page, you will wonder how it was possible for Huxley to foresee the world of today so clearly. Originally, however, Huxley felt it would not become a reality until 632 years after Ford (a hybrid term combining Henry Ford and assembly line sameness and Sigmund Freud’s dethroning of God and Christianity). Instead, only 27 short years after he’d written Brave New World, Huxley was horrified to discover it was beginning already and would be a reality by the 21st century.

Note some of his predictions in Brave New World (the title taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Miranda responds to seeing other men besides her father for the first time, with these euphoric worlds, ‘How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. . .”). Only Huxley flips those four words upside down meaning-wise, almost as though he was mocking Miranda’s naivette. Upon publication of his dystopian bombshell, overnight Huxley assumed world-wide prominence, and he has retained it ever since.

So what will you find?

• Pneumatic women (who give themselves indiscriminately to anyone and everyone) are to Huxley the logical result of contraceptives and the lowering of physical barriers to free sex resulting from mankind’s turning away from Christianity and monogamy.

• Ford (Ford/Freud) is deified above God, and is considered the culture’s founder/god.

• Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Centers where babies are cloned. According to their predestined places in society, the babies are given more or less oxygen. Betas are given the most oxygen, followed by those with less: Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.

• Children are raised and educated by the state.

• The filthiest words in the language are “Mother” and “Father.”

• There is no old age; bodily functions are artificially reinforced by medicine; no one shows signs of aging until about the age of sixty, then suddenly the cumulative effects of the drugs take effect and the individual buckles, senility arrives, and usually the individual dies quickly.

• There are ten Controllers who rule over the entire world.

• “Soma,” a drug, is dished out to everyone each day—it increases in intensity as it is sorely needed in a society with all challenges removed. In heavier doses it can be used for trips that can put the individuals into weekend dream worlds [much like LSD].

• Music too is synthetic; sex and music turns Fordism into an inspirational orgy.

• It is dangerous to be too stunted or too brilliant.

• Education begins even before birth in bottles, where specific traits are implanted.

• Babies are conditioned by explosions, electric shocks, sirens, screeching sounds, etc., to be terrified of beautiful bowls of flowers and colorful nursery books. Babies are conditioned to dislike books because otherwise they might question stratified society; and all things beautiful in nature are discredited.

• Babies are conditioned to hate their country but to love all sports.

• All through childhood they are constantly being conditioned to consider all words dealing with home and family relationships as smutty. Lecturers stress the filth and horribleness of ancient families.

• Sayings such as “everyone belongs to everyone else,” “ending is better than mending,” “I love new clothes,” “cleanliness is next to fordliness,” are repeated tens of thousands of times subliminally while children and teens are asleep.

• The insinuating voice repeats these injunctions so many times over so many years that eventually, by adulthood, they harden into the state-ordained philosophy of life.

• History and literature are both downgraded:

You all remember, said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s, ‘History is bunk. History,’ he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk.’

He waves his hand; and it is as though, with an invisible feather whisk, and the dust that was Harappo, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk, Whisk—and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where was Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk—and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom—all were gone. Whisk—the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk. Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, symphony; whisk. . . . [BNW, pp 22, 23]

• Freedom is made to appear as archaic and useless to children and youth. Democracy is “idiotic.”

• Poetical references to the Deity are perverted and attributed to Ford.

• Prior to the establishment of the world state, thousands of culture fans were gassed, museums were closed, monuments were blown up, all books published before A.F. 150 were suppressed, all crosses became T’s. All mention of heaven, God, soul, and immortality were eliminated.

• Another tool of the state is television. Movies have become “feelies” (one holds knobs at the side of the seat, then feels the action as well as hearing it). Even the scent organs are included in these orgiastic productions. Both pain and desire are transmitted electrically. The plots are mostly pornographic.

• Discontented people are exiled to islands where they are locked up with others who dare to question the state.

• Because the state allows all the natural impulses to have free play, there are no longer any temptations to resist!

• Once every month everyone’s system is flooded with VPS (adrenalin, the physiological equivalent of fear, rage, murder, etc.).

* * * * *

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley noted that “Liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even on a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.” [BNWR, 14]

Huxley also articulated his worry about the rapid acceleration of America’s Power Elite; mass production squeezing small businesses out; sociologists hastening the downward spiral of freedom by urging other-directedness and conformity. Also he worried about the disappearance of thousands of small journals and local newspapers. Only chains can economically survive (with the loss of the small men of the press, comes another link in the totalitarian chain). The constant bombardment of the media [just imagine what he’d think today!] results in the assimilation of so much trivia that mankind will find it harder and harder to resist the encroachments of would-be-controllers:

The dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine those techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions. [BNWR, 37]

Huxley maintains that a Hitler would have a much better chance of staying in power in the modern era. Thanks to technological progress, “Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God.” [BNWR, 39]. He also submitted that parents generally fail to realize the extent to which children swallow media propaganda.

Huxley concludes BNWR with predictions that will curdle the blood of any thinking person. Buy both books and slowly digest them. They are available in multitudes of editions.

I quote from the Brave New World Bantam Classic edition of 1966; and from the Brave New World Revisited Harper Perennial Library edition of 1965.


Part Two
April 24, 2013

Each day that passes, for untold millions of people, the electronic world is increasingly edging out the real world. Initially, pundits prophesied that the Brave New World of the Internet would result in bringing us closer and closer to each other. Instead, the reverse is proving true: Just look at text-messaging: it has become a substitute for real-life interaction. Look at the number of people who text-message each other in the same room—they look at the screen rather than at the real-life face. Lately, researchers are noting another result: people are becoming ever more isolated from each other; in fact, we’re losing the ability to read each other’s body language.

Another study I read just during the last week had to do with what’s happening to us sexually. Because the electronic world continues to dehumanize us, increasingly sexuality is becoming merely another sport, aerobics if you please, in which we gain momentary highs without deepening the relationship with the person who made that high possible. Consequently, rather than sex deepening the relationship between two people, increasing the love and commitment they have for each other, the reverse is proving true: throw-away relationships are becoming the norm, and not incidentally, accelerating our current epidemic of suicides.

But neither should we lose sight of the wonderful benefits of the Internet, the many ways in which it has changed our lives for the better. For instance, earlier in my writing career, when we completed a manuscript, we’d photocopy it, then take it to the Post Office and mail it certified, then wait and wait for a response on the other end. Today, a click of the mouse sends it to the recipient wherever in the world that person may be; another click of the mouse and the person on the other end acknowledges its receipt; thirty minutes later, another click of the mouse and we know what that person thinks of the manuscript after a cursory reading of it. In that respect it is indeed a Brave New World on the positive side. So I am not debunking or running down the marvelous technology that makes all this possible, but rather I am addressing some of the darker side-effects we should thoughtfully study.

There was a thirty-year-fuse that eventually ignited into my book, Remote Controlled (Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1993). In it I tackled the issue of what we were becoming as the result of our fascination with television. One finding is most apropos to this blog series: If you are listening to a live drama or radio theater, or reading a book or magazine, no two people will create the same mental imagery, for each of us creates such imagery connotatively, in association with everything else we’ve experienced in life, and building on the creative imagery created earlier by our brains, we create a new one from each such exposure. Each book we read, for instance, can be a treasure chest for hundreds of images instantly transmitted into our brain’s archives.
But now, let’s contrast that with imagery that is beamed at us electronically–be it a movie, a television program, or a video. Whether one person sees it or a billion, the image is the same: since it is pre-fab, created by someone other than the receiver of the electronic image, it is one and the same. Result: it is blasted straight into the receiver’s inner archives, bypassing the receiver’s mind, heart, and soul, for they had nothing to do with its creation. The consequences, over time, we’ve all seen. The non-readers are crippled by an inability to create well for most everything in their inner memory archives is second-hand, created by someone else!

When I have two Freshman Comp students in a class, and ask them to take out a piece of paper and get ready to write, the reader can hardly wait to begin (having so many stylistic templates to draw from), whereas the non-reader just stares glassy-eyed at that sheet of paper, unable to even begin. Having only unstructured disjointed electronic imagery to draw from, that student is, more often than not, incapable of either writing or speaking in coherent well-structured sentences and paragraphs. Hence our current epidemic of cheating in America, for non-readers, having little that is original in their heads, when faced with writing an essay, term paper, or research project, are, tragically, unable to write without cheating.

In fact CEOs have noticed that it goes on from there: they’ve discovered that if they take two applicants for a position (one a reader and the other a non-reader), and ask them to follow a five-step process to a solution to a problem (A, B, C, D, and E), deliberately leaving out a step, the reader comes to the abyss, is puzzled but not defeated by it, and almost immediately, like a spider, sends synapses out in all directions, and is thus able to bridge to the other side, continue, and arrive at a conclusion. The non-reader, having never developed that part of the brain scholars call “the library,” in which the brain has learned to talk to itself, is literally incapable of ever bridging to the other side.

So while a given non-reading person may develop marvelous skill in utilizing technology and become a whiz at creating data, that individual may be crippled by an inability to fully interpret and articulate the significance of that data.

From all that I have seen, from all that I have read, America has become a society of non-readers. And that reality alone contributes mightily to what I am calling the paralysis of the American mind.

We will conclude this tripartite series next Wednesday.





Part One

April 17, 2013

I pray a lot about my blogs – that God will help me choose each one – then I wait. Sometimes His answer is soft and under-stated; sometimes He permits me to choose from several options; and sometimes the answer is about as subtle as the smash of a sledgehammer – that’s the way it has been this week. The subject so significant it will take me three blogs to address it.

The catalyst? Two days ago, early one snowy morning, after walking through the almost heartbreakingly beautiful April snow – never a given in drought-plagued Colorado –, I thought once again about the fragility of our lives, and wondered how many more such April snowfalls the good Lord would grant me.

Back at the house, a fire was crackling merrily in our moss rock fireplace. When we were searching for a home in the Rockies a little over 16 years ago, a must was a wood-burning fireplace. When we found this place, one glimpse of this particular fireplace, and we knew we were home.

Back in the house with two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post, I settled down to catch up on news of the world. Usually, I stall out more often with WSJ, but not this morning, for there in Section C of the Post was the blog catalyst for the next several weeks. Here is how Matt Miller’s jolting headline read:


It begins with, “Facebook is in the business of social lives. The friends you have, the execs you stalk, the restaurants you like, and the brands you talk about are at the core of what they do.”

Miller points out that Facebook executives have been increasingly convicted that they were losing the battle for control of our minds to other media brands and forms. So their brain trust came up with something they call “Facebook Home,” but is really far closer to “Facebook Phone,” for it inserts Facebook into the center of the Android phone world.

Initially, Miller perceived the program as a good and needed thing, but the more he’s studied it, the more apprehensive he has become:

When Facebook becomes the hub of our mobile social lives as the operating core of our phone, it is no longer just a tool we use to streamline our social lives – Facebook can now BE your social life.

Miller then quotes from University of Colorado Michelle Jackson (associate professor of communication):

You get hundreds of people that you’re supposedly following. And Facebook takes care of all the decisions . . . of what to read about who, and when.

Imagine the number of times the average person looks at his/her phone every day. Now, with Home, this person is automatically being thrust into the social world via Facebook with each glance.

Jackson notes that deciding moment-by-moment whether to socialize or not will no longer even be an option, for if your phone is turned on, you’re already there:

From the moment you turn it on, you see a steady stream of who’s in a bad mood, who’s happy, who’s posted pictures from a party or a meal. Instant access to political rants or anything else people broadcast on social media.

* * * * *

I do not regard Facebook’s Home program as insidious in itself, but rather symptomatic of an even broader issue: What’s happening to us as a society? There’s an old sociological term for it – other-directed. We have just two options in life: we are either other-directed or we are inner-directed. To be inner-directed is to have an inner core of beliefs that enables you, to a certain extent, to be master of your own destiny. By extension: whether you succeed or fail at what you do and accomplish on a day-to-day basis, is in your hands rather than in the hands of others. On the other hand, if you lack inner-directedness, and are consequently other-directed, you are no more in control of your multitudinous life-choices than would be true of the captain of an ocean cruiseship that has lost its rudder. In wartime vernacular, you are a “sitting duck” for forces beyond your control.

We ought to be terrified by this accelerating shift from being an inner-directed nation to being an other-directed one.

The result is that more and more of us are choosing to live in a vicarious world rather than in the real one; choosing pleasure as our lode-star rather than real-life tough choices,. I’m reminded of my personal immersion into utopian and dystopian literature preparatory to writing my master’s thesis at Sacramento State University. During that time period I studied the two most famous dystopias: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell’s nightmarish world of the future was patterned after tyrants such as Stalin who murdered some 40,000,000 of his people in order to remain in power. Huxley’s view of the future was much more benign: ruling by control of the mind rather than body. In retrospect, as I look back over the years separating me from 2013 and the 1968 thesis (45 years), I feel that if Huxley were alive today, he’d have written a sequel to his own sequel. Twenty years after writing Brave New World, he wrote Brave New World Revisited. In it he voiced his deep concern for the societal shift that had already taken place: in only twenty years, already Brave New World was becoming reality rather than fiction. Originally, he’d assumed it would take a century to get there!

In Brave New World (a flashback to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Huxley created a world driven by the pleasure-principle. Just as was true in the last years of the Roman Empire, unscrupulous individuals are able to assume control of millions of people by providing ever more pleasure-related activities so that the masses would lose interest in the realities of government and citizenship.

So, to conclude this first segment of “The Paralysis of the American Mind,” and set the stage for Part 2, let’s recap by posing some questions worth pondering:

• Just how much control over my life am I willing to surrender to someone else (be it an individual or corporation)?

• How much intrusion into my own achievement/career/family, etc. trajectories am I willing to permit?

• What effect on my personal time-management will these near constant electronic intrusions have?

• Just what am I today: inner-directed or other-directed?

• Recognizing that Facebook’s Home is but one piece of a vast electronic mosaic, is it perhaps time for me to back off a bit and take stock of how I am personally relating to the realities of my own Brave New World?